Installation and first steps

Installation and first steps #

Initial setup #

For detailed installation instructions, please refer to the official Installing and running Semgrep locally documentation.

Installing Semgrep #

Depending on your operating system and preferences, there are several ways to install Semgrep.

To install Semgrep with pip, run the following command:

python3 -m pip install semgrep

If you use macOS or Linux, you can install Semgrep with Homebrew. To install Semgrep with Homebrew, run the following command:

brew install semgrep
If you prefer to use Semgrep in a Docker container, you can use the official Semgrep Docker image. You can find the latest Semgrep Docker image on the Docker Hub page.

Keeping Semgrep up to date #

Semgrep is a security tool that is constantly being improved with new features and bug fixes. It is important to stay updated with the latest releases to take advantage of these improvements and ensure your security testing is as effective as possible.

Checking for updates #

Semgrep will notify you if a new version is available when you run it. If an update is available, you will see a message like this:

$ semgrep -c auto
# (...)
A new version of Semgrep is available. See

You can also check for updates manually by visiting the Semgrep Releases page.

Updating Semgrep #

Depending on how you installed it, there are several ways to update Semgrep. Refer to the official Updating Semgrep documentation for more detailed information.

Updating with Python Package Installer (pip):

python3 -m pip install --upgrade semgrep

Updating with Homebrew:

brew upgrade semgrep
If you use Semgrep in a Docker container, you can update it by rebuilding the container with the latest Semgrep image. You can find the latest Semgrep Docker image on the Docker Hub page.

Running Semgrep #

Before you start #

Caution #1: Privacy #

Auto mode (via the --config auto argument) requires submitting metrics online, which means that some metadata about the scanned source code will be sent to Semgrep’s servers. This is not an issue for open-source projects, but should be considered when using Semgrep against proprietary code (see: Semgrep Privacy Policy). You can disable metrics running Semgrep using its --metrics=off argument.

Caution #2: Ignored files #

The default Semgrep configuration skips the /tests, /test, and /vendors folders. If you want to scan them, use the .semgrepignore file to customize which ones to skip. For more information on how to use .semgrepignore, refer to the Semgrep documentation on ignoring files and folders.

Here’s a quick overview of common syntax for including or excluding single files and using wildcards:

  • To ignore a specific file or directory, add its path to the .semgrepignore file:

  • To ignore all files with a specific extension, use a wildcard *:


Preliminary run with “auto” configuration #

Use the following command in your repository to automatically detect and use relevant built-in rulesets based on an identified programming language or filename:

semgrep --config auto

Tailoring rulesets for optimal security testing #

When it comes to security testing, specificity and focus are key. While Semgrep’s “auto” configuration offers a convenient starting point by automatically applying general rules based on your code, it might not always yield the most accurate results. To minimize false positives and decrease noise in your findings, selecting only the rulesets relevant to your codebase is essential.

By customizing your rulesets, you will streamline the testing process and save time on issues that don’t pertain to your code. Though the “auto” configuration serves as a useful initial step in security testing, it is crucial to fine-tune your rulesets for a more precise and efficient analysis that caters to your specific needs.

  1. Exploring Semgrep registry: Visit the Semgrep Registry to identify rulesets that meet your needs. Semgrep Registry provides a wide range of rulesets, enabling you to find the ones that align with your organization’s requirements and coding standards.

  2. Disabling metrics collection: If you prefer not to send anonymous usage metrics while using Semgrep, you can disable them using either of these methods:

    • Set the SEMGREP_SEND_METRICS environment variable. This can be done in your shell configuration file, or by exporting the variable in your current shell session:

      export SEMGREP_SEND_METRICS=off

      Once the environment variable is set, Semgrep will not send anonymous usage metrics during execution.

    • Use the alias command:

      alias semgrep="semgrep --metrics=off"

      This command creates an alias for the Semgrep command with the --metrics=off option. Whenever you use Semgrep, the aliased command will be executed, ensuring that metrics are not sent. Add the alias command to your shell configuration file to create a persistent alias that remains available across terminal sessions (the specific file depends on the shell you are using).

      Be cautious with the alias command approach, as aliases work only in interactive shell sessions. If you run Semgrep from a script, it will still send metrics. We recommend using the environment variable method as the primary option for disabling metrics collection.
  3. Using customized rulesets: To perform a scan in the current directory and its subdirectories using the selected ruleset, run the following command:

    • For a ruleset existing in the Semgrep Registry:

      # Runs the trailofbits ruleset with Semgrep
      semgrep --config="p/trailofbits"
    • For the ruleset in a directory (e.g., not in the Semgrep registry):

      # Runs Semgrep rules from the /home/semgrep-rules directory
      semgrep -f /home/semgrep-rules
    You can use the -c, -f, or --config flags interchangeably, as they all serve the same purpose of specifying a ruleset to use during the scan.
    • To run multiple predefined rules simultaneously, provide multiple --config (or its short forms -c or -f) arguments:

      semgrep --config="p/trailofbits" --config="p/r2c-security-audit"
    • Use the ephemeral rules, e.g. semgrep -e 'exec(...)' --lang=py ./, to supply a rule inline.

  4. Overview of output formats: Semgrep supports multiple output formats to help you conveniently analyze results according to your preferences and tooling.

    a. Available formats: You can choose from various output formats for Semgrep scan results, including Emacs, JSON, GitLab SAST, GitLab Secrets, JUnit XML, SARIF, and Vim formats. Run semgrep scan --help to see all available output formats.

    b. Using output formats with external tools:

    • SARIF format: Use the SARIF format with the Visual Studio Code and the SARIF Explorer extension. This makes it easy to review the analysis results and drill down into specific issues to understand their impact and severity. Example usage of the p/default ruleset with the SARIF output format:

      semgrep -c p/default --sarif --output scan_results.sarif
    • VIM format: Use the VIM format to have all the information about a finding in a single line, making it convenient for users of the Vim text editor. Example usage of the p/default ruleset with the VIM output format:

      semgrep -c p/default --vim --output scan_results.vim

    c. Filtering and limiting results:

    • Use the --severity [INFO|WARNING|ERROR] flag to report findings only from rules that match the specified severity (INFO/WARNING/ERROR).
    • There is currently no obvious flag to limit results based on specific rule metadata (e.g., impact). See the Feature request: CLI support for filtering by rule metadata GitHub issue for a possible workaround.

    d. Data flow tracing:

    Use the --dataflow-traces flag to understand how non-local values contribute to a finding. This option generates detailed output showing the data flow between variables, function calls, and other code elements that lead to the reported issue.

    For example, in the following scenarios, data flow tracing can be beneficial:

    • Suppose Semgrep identifies a potential SQL injection vulnerability. In that case, data flow tracing can help you track how user input is passed through various functions and eventually used in an unsafe SQL query. This will enable you to pinpoint where proper input sanitization should be implemented.
    • Suppose Semgrep detects a possible path traversal vulnerability. In that case, data flow tracing can provide you with the sequence of code elements that led to the vulnerability, such as the source of the unsanitized input, the function that processes it, and the file I/O operation that exposes the vulnerability. Analyzing this data allows you to identify the root cause more effectively and apply the appropriate fix.

    This flag is currently compatible with taint mode, tracing the flow of tainted data from its source to its sink.

    Consider the following example, which demonstrates standard Semgrep output:

    $ semgrep -f taint_mode_test.yml
     # (...)
     Found unsanitized flow
               3┆ return output(data)
     # (...)

    By incorporating the --dataflow-traces option, you can obtain a more detailed analysis:

    $ semgrep --dataflow-traces -f taint_mode_test.yml
    # (...)
    Found unsanitized flow
              3┆ return output(data)
              Taint comes from:
                2┆ data = get_user_input()
              Taint flows through these intermediate variables:
                2┆ data = get_user_input()
              This is how taint reaches the sink:
                3┆ return output(data)
    # (...)

    Also, you can use the --json (JSON output) for further processing:

    $ semgrep --json --dataflow-traces -f rule.yml
    Scanning 1 file.
    # (...)
    # (...)
    "path": "",
    "start": { "col": 5, "line": 8, "offset": 146 } }}],
    "taint_sink": ["CliLoc", [ {"end": {"col": 29,"line": 10,"offset": 226 },
    "path": "","start": { "col": 12, "line": 10, "offset": 209 }
    "taint_source": ["CliLoc", [{ "end": {"col": 28,"line": 8,"offset": 169},
    "path": "", "start": { "col": 12, "line": 8, "offset": 153 }},
    "engine_kind": "OSS",
    "lines": "    return html_output(data)",
    "message": "Found dangerous HTML output",
    "severity": "WARNING"
    # (...)
    # (...)

    e. Output verbosity and debugging:

    • Use the --verbose flag to show detailed information about which rules are running, which files are skipped, etc.
    • Use the --debug flag to display the same information as when using the --verbose flag, with additional debugging information.

Managing third-party Semgrep rules #

By default, you can access various rules in the Semgrep Explore website and apply them automatically in Semgrep. For instance, to use CWE Top 25 rules, follow this command:

semgrep --config "p/cwe-top-25"

Supplementing the default rules provided by Semgrep Explore with external rules created by individual security researchers and others can enhance your testing capabilities. However, numerous rulesets are stored in the repositories the authors manage and may not be included in the official Semgrep repositories. To effectively manage these rules, consider using semgrep-rules-manager. The purpose of the semgrep-rules-manager is to collect high-quality Semgrep rules from third-party sources.

To begin using the semgrep-rules-manager and download all custom Semgrep rules supported by it, follow these steps:

# Install semgrep-rules-manager via pip (see for more info)
$ pip install semgrep-rules-manager

# Create a new directory for downloaded Semgrep rules
$ mkdir -p $HOME/custom-semgrep-rules

# Use semgrep-rules-manager to download custom rulestes
$ semgrep-rules-manager --dir $HOME/custom-semgrep-rules download
7 sources were successfully downloaded

# Show downloaded Semgrep rules
$ ls $HOME/custom-semgrep-rules
0xdea  community  dgryski  elttam  gitlab  kondukto  trailofbits

# Run downloaded rules in the current directory
$ semgrep -f $HOME/custom-semgrep-rules

Please note that semgrep-rules-manager may also download rulesets that are already included in Semgrep Explore, such as community, trailofbits, dgryski, or gitlab.

Additional tips for running Semgrep #

  • Implement the autocomplete feature to use the TAB key to expedite your workflow while working with the command line.

  • If you get the error No file descriptors available when running Semgrep on a large codebase, this indicates an excess of open files. To solve this problem, use the UNIX ulimit command to increase the allowed number of file descriptors.

    To increase the allowed number of file descriptors using the UNIX ulimit command, you can use the following commands:

    # Check the current limit of file descriptors:
    $ ulimit -n
    # To increase the limit, use the following command,
    # replacing NEW_LIMIT with the desired number of file descriptors:
    $ ulimit -n NEW_LIMIT # e.g. ulimit -n 4096

    Remember that this change will apply only to the current terminal session.

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